The other night, I was out to dinner with a friend of mine who told me about the many digestive difficulties she’d recently been experiencing. For months, she had been suffering from chronic cramps and abdominal pain, as well as several unpleasant intestinal issues. At first, she thought she could be lactose intolerant, so she stopped consuming dairy products like milk, cheese, etc. Although her pains diminished slightly, they continued to pose a problem. Next, she considered the possibility of Celiac Disease, or hypersensitivity to gluten-a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat-but, this was not the cause either. After copious amounts of research, my friend realized she was suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a condition involving recurrent abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation.
It may not be altogether well known across our age group, IBS is the most common functional gastrointestinal disorder in the world, affecting between 9% and 23% of all people. In fact, a lot of IBS sufferers don’t even realize they have the disorder. They often mistake it for common stomachaches or even menstrual cramps. Even though most cases can be pretty mild or spread-out, IBS can still disrupt people’s lives and add unnecessary discomfort to their daily routines. It is particularly prevalent among women, making it primarily a women’s health issue.
Even people who are familiar with the disorder don’t realize its ties to other conditions—many of which are also typically female-associated. The majority of IBS patients suffer from depression, chronic stress, and anxiety disorders (in addition to previous intestinal infections), and for many, these disorders are the very cause of their IBS.
After learning all of this, I asked my friend how she is handling her situation. “Is there any particular remedy?“ I inquired. It was then that she told me about the new “FODMAP” diet, which she and several others (including those who don't have IBS) have adopted and found much success with.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable-Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols, and represents the carbohydrates (sugars) found in several foods. Regular FODMAPs include fructose (fruits, honey, corn syrup), lactose (dairy), fructans (wheat, onion, garlic), galactans (beans, lentils, legumes), and polyols (artificial sweeteners and stone fruits like apricots, peaches, or plums). For IBS patients and others, FODMAPs are not easily digested or absorbed, leading to gas, bloating, cramping, and intestinal troubles. The FODMAP diet consists of a limited intake of the above-mentioned foods and carbohydrates to help reduce these painful symptoms.
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On the FODMAP diet, dairy products such as chocolate, buttermilk, soft cheeses, and yogurt should be limited, as well many beans and soy products. Grains with enriched wheat flours like tortillas or rye should be reduced, as well as any fruits, desserts, or beverages with high fructose corn syrup. Heavy vegetables like beets, leeks, cabbage and others should be substituted with vegetables like celery, carrots, or cucumbers, to name a few. Most meats, poultry, and egg products are all welcomed. For a full list of foods to eat and limit, visit Stanford Hospital & Clinic’s information handout: http://stanfordhospital.org/digestivehealth/nutrition/DH-Low-FODMAP-Diet-Handout.pdf.
My friend has been on the FODMAP diet for just over a month now and already feels much improved. Her cramps have dwindled and her digestion is back on a consistent path toward regularity. If you or someone you know suffers from symptoms of IBS or just wants to be a little healthier and more prudent in your dietary selections this summer, give the FODMAP diet a try!